Jan. 18, 2015
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Should New York Islanders draftee Robbie Russo be assigned to the franchise’s AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, following the 2014-15 season, he will have a happy memory of his new home ice, Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena. Russo became the first Notre Dame hockey defenseman to score a hat trick since 1988, lifting the Irish to a 6-1 win over Connecticut on Sunday afternoon.
Russo leads all defensemen nationally with both his 11 goals and 24 points on the year. He completed the first hat trick by a Notre Dame defenseman since Frank O’Brien on Feb. 20, 1988 against Lake Forest, prior to the program fully joining the Division I ranks.
“He’s been special all season long,” Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said. “If he’s not the best defenseman in the country, he’s one of the best. He’s not doing it by sacrificing defense [Russo is +14 on the season]. He’s played with Jordan Gross, a freshman, all season long. He’s done a good job of mentoring him. He’s helped a really young blue line a lot with his performance.”
The win is also the milestone 400th of Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson’s 16-year career. Jackson is the seventh active Division I coach to reach the 400 career win milestone, doing it in five fewer seasons than any of the other six. Jackson leads active Division I coaches with his .663 career winning percentage. He is now 218-136-38 in his 10 seasons guiding the Irish.
“I didn’t even know until the guys turned around on the bench and wanted fist pumps,” a humble Jackson said. “That statistic is so overrated because there’s so many players that I’ve had, so many coaches that I’ve worked with and even our support staff. Everybody’s involved in each one of those wins. I don’t get it as far as the individual accolade. The only thing I worry about is the next one. That’s all that matters to me right now.”
Notre Dame improves to 10-11-3 on the year with the win and 5-2-3 in Hockey East play, vaulting the team up to fifth-place in the league standings. UConn dips to 7-11-5 overall and 4-5-2 in league action.
The Huskies broke through first on the scoreboard with a tally just four seconds into their first power play of the game. Brent Norris won the faceoff back to Kasperi Ojantakanen whose wrister from the point found its way through a screen, past Cal Petersen and into the Irish net off of the far post.
Notre Dame tied the game just two seconds after a power play expired with 47.1 seconds left in the first period. Sam Herr and then Anders Bjork cycled the puck around back to the point for a booming one-timer from Robbie Russo to beat Rob Nichols in the UConn goal and knot the score.
The fourth line for the Irish came through in the second period as two Notre Dame skaters recorded their first career points to give the Irish a 2-1 advantage. Ben Ostlie fed Joe Aiken for a wrist shot from the faceoff dot to Nichols’ left which beat the UConn netminder’s normally-nimble glove. Notre Dame doubled its lead on the power play at the 18:59 mark of the second period when Mario Lucia collected his own rebound on the doorstep and slipped a backhander into the goal for a 3-1 Notre Dame advantage. It marked the third consecutive game with a power play strike by the Irish. The goal was Lucia’s 15th of the year, tying him for the Hockey East lead.
Russo scored his second of the game, his 10th of the year just 2:55 into the third period on a slapper from the point. Gross picked up a helper on Russo’s goal, extending his point scoring streak to eight games. He completed his hat trick at 13:09 of the third period on a 190-foot empty netter as the Huskies pulled Nichols for an additional attacker on the power play. Notre Dame closed out the scoring at the 17:05 mark of the third period as Justin Wade netted the first goal of his Notre Dame career, set up by Jake Evans and Steven Fogarty.
Petersen made 28 saves in the Irish net to pick up his sixth victory of the season. Nichols stopped 35 shots for the Huskies. Notre Dame outshot the Huskies, 41-29.
The Irish trade one set of Huskies for another next weekend when the team returns to Hockey East play with a pair of games against the Northeastern Huskies at Matthews Arena in Boston. The puck drops at 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday night against the Irish and Huntington Hounds.